Amid a global pandemic, economic recession and simmering racial tensions around the world, Israel’s threat to formally annex parts of occupied Palestinian territory presents yet another international crisis in the making. This is because, with this outrageous move, the Israeli government threatens to unravel the rules-based system of international relations.
Today’s international law regime was established in the first half of the 20th century not only to regulate relations between states but also to assist the movements for self-determination across the world and oversee the end of colonialism.
The looming Israeli annexation of Palestinian land and the global inaction on it evidence the failure of this regime to help end colonialism and put its very raison d’etre in question.
No law for the powerful
Much of the narrative in international diplomatic circles around the issue of annexation has revolved around deterrence, with the rationale being the threat of tangible consequences to annexation will lead to a reconsideration of the move. Yet this narrative fails to acknowledge that we have reached a point, where Israel will annex yet another chunk of Palestinian territory precisely because deterrence has not worked. The threat of consequences has merely forced successive Israeli governments to innovate.
In fact, Israel has enjoyed wide-ranging impunity throughout the various stages of colonisation of Palestine as the international community has treated it as if it were a law-abiding sovereign state and not a colonising power. Israel’s participation in the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme is just one example of this.
Israel, of course, is not alone in having expansionist ambitions. History is replete with examples of rapacious colonial states and the means, methods and justifications they have used in moving forward their colonial practices. In the vast majority of cases, these states have showed no self-restraint, requiring an external force (most often the drive for freedom of the oppressed colonial subjects) to challenge and subdue those ambitions.
It is for this reason that international law includes provisions that are supposed to curb expansionism. But while the legal framework exists, its enforcement mechanisms have been weak, which has only encouraged powerful actors to manipulate and break it. The continued colonisation of Palestine is a prime example of this.